Local companies focus on workplace wearable tech

Vandrico Solutions, Motion Metrics developing first smartglass app for hard-rock mining
Vandrico CEO Gonzalo Tudela and Motion Metrics CEO Shahram Tafazoli: Vandrico and Motion Metrics are working together to develop what could be the world’s first smartglass application for hard-rock mining

De Beers, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton – some of the world’s largest mining companies already use analytics and equipment-monitoring software made by Vancouver’s Motion Metrics International Corp., which puts safety and efficiency data at mine supervisors’ fingertips.

By the end of this year, that information could be right in front of their noses, as well.

Motion Metrics has partnered with Vandrico Solutions Inc., a Vancouver startup focused on workplace apps for wearable devices, to develop what may be the world’s first smartglass application for hard-rock mining.

The contract is an important first step for Vandrico, which early on identified a niche for smartglass apps: the workplace.

“It starts to validate what we see, which is wearable technology moving to the workforce,” said Vandrico CEO Gonzalo Tudela. “Our main focus is bringing wearables to the workplace.”

Technology analysts are predicting 2014 will be the year of the wearable device – primarily watches and glasses, although there are already smart rings and gloves coming into the market too. But most of those devices – and the apps developed for them – are consumer-focused. Vandrico is concentrating strictly on workplace applications.

Motion Metrics’ mine site monitoring and analytics systems are used at roughly 50 mine sites by the world’s largest mining companies. One of those companies asked Motion Metrics CEO Shahram Tafazoli if his company planned to add a wearable component, and as it turns out, he was.

“I was already interested to bring a wearable component to our products,” he said. “I have been following it for a couple of years now. When I learned about Vandrico, and the fact they are focusing on bringing it to the workplace, I really liked the story.”

When a shovel loses a tooth, it can cause millions of dollars in damage and lost productivity, if it gets stuck in a conveyor belt or makes it into an ore crusher – and it’s something that happens regularly in hard-rock mining.

“We have a customer, they lost three in one morning,” Tafazoli said. “We are saving the mine millions of dollars.”

Motion Metrics uses sensors, cameras and analytics for monitoring mining equipment, such as shovels, loaders, crushers and conveyor belts. The company’s technology can alert equipment operators when a shovel tooth breaks, and its analytics can even predict when a piece of equipment needs to be replaced.

Currently, operators receive data on display screens, and supervisors have access to mine site analytics via desktops and iPads. But there are advantages to putting all that information in a heads-up display (HUD) that can be worn at all times by foremen and supervisors.

The GPS function in a smartglass would allow targeted analytics to be used in the field. A foreman inspecting a conveyor belt, for example, could be sent information specific to that belt – volume of ore processed – based on his GPS position.

“By identifying their location, we can bring the information of that conveyor belt right in front of them,” Tafazoli said.

The foreman could even use the smartglass camera to take stills or video of a damaged piece of equipment and email it to the manufacturer for advice on fixing or replacing it.

Tudela said there are already more than a dozen smartglasses on the market, including those made by Vancouver’s Recon Instruments. He hasn’t decided which hardware he will use. Recon’s HUD system is one of the smartglasses he is considering.

Although Recon is focused on smartglasses for sports – skiing and cycling – the company has identified industrial, military and medical applications as other potential markets.

“Consumer-centric use cases are incredibly compelling for Recon Jet, but perhaps even more fascinating is the potential for Jet in the industrial markets,” said Recon chief marketing officer Tom Fowler. “We ruggedized Jet with sports in mind, but it is no secret that the design has great utility in a wide range of military, industrial and medical markets, to name just a few. These are massive markets where we can make a serious impact.”

Vandrico’s eight-person development team will begin developing the Motion Metrics app in February and plans to have it ready for use by the end of the year. •

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